rape culture
(This photo from Flickr captures a protest against rape culture at the Massachusetts Capitol.Chase Carter)

So many times, I have set down to write an article about rape culture. So many times, I have failed to find the words.

I have struggled to organize my thoughts throughout the Cosby scandal, during the Brock Turner trial, after a dear friend confided her personal rape story to me and, most recently, as we hear Donald Trump’s admission that he thinks who he is gives him the right — no, the privilege — to take whatever he wants from women.

But I can no longer be silent because silence is a big part of the problem. Huge. Silence takes the place of women’s untold stories, their lack of justice and the possibility of a future without change.

So let’s talk.

In newly released tapes, Trump not only brags about how he can kiss a woman without her permission, but he almost encourages men to get what they want by flat out taking hold of it. I’m sure you’ve read the exact quote, and I am too disgusted to repeat it. Yet, as horrible as it is, many are already dismissing Trump’s wretched statements as harmless locker room talk — a private conversation with no real meaning. Here in Oklahoma, the state’s female governor — an ardent Trump supporter — has yet to comment. From Trump’s campaign, a half-apology was issued, and we are supposed to move on.

How can this be dismissed? During an election, every element of a candidate falls under a microscope. It has long been acceptable to judge candidates by far more than policy. Everything from their facial expressions to the color of a tie is fair game, so how on Earth could this conversation be regarded as unimportant?

I cannot comprehend that, in 2016, this type of acceptable rape culture is still such a prevalent issue. That, so often, cases and examples of sexual assault are still kept quiet and swept under the rug. Worse, that rape culture is something many women even tolerate as ‘the way it is.’ And above all, that someone vying to be at the very top of our government — who we most need to advocate for sexual assault issues — has become the face of rape culture.

Sadly, this normalization of rape culture is often the way it is. From what’s perceived as harmless objectification of women to violent rape, our culture says that it is unacceptable, yet our children are still learning misogyny, and still carrying out sexual crimes against women. According to RAINN, the nation’s largest organization against sexual violence, someone experiences sexual assault every 109 seconds in the U.S. Yet, for every 1,000 rapes, only 344 are actually reported — with only 63 of those resulting in an arrest.

To be clear: A sexual assault happens every two minutes, but only about a third of the victims get help, and fewer than 1 percent actually get justice.

Raise your voice

I can’t even begin to fathom how to change this, but I do have one request: Please start more dialogue about this issue. Almost every woman I know has a story of sexual assault. I have one too. But we don’t talk about it.

Why is sexual assault still taboo to discuss? It is not easy; talking about this type of topic is petrifying. It opens the door to shame and judgement from strangers, often in the form of horrible, damaging statements from cowardly internet trolls. Just check out Kelly Oxford’s Twitter feed (@kellyoxford) for a perfect, current example.

But the thought of sweeping rape culture back under the rug is even more scary. As a nation, we have to start changing what is acceptable behavior, from conversation to action.

Let’s use this disgusting Trump conversation as an opportunity to start healthy discussions. Talk to your kids. Talk to your friends. Talk to your family. Hell, talk to anyone that will listen and be part of a conversation about respect and consent.

It may not change the world today, but I hope it will give strength and support to those who have previously remained silent.

Raise your voice — I’m listening.